Noie: Another ACC weekend offers Notre Dame coach Mike Brey a Delaware reunion
Six hours after the charter flight had raced through the overnight to deliver the Louisville men’s basketball team back to the Commonwealth, first-year assistant coach Mike Pegues was on campus in his office and already at work.
His voice sounded as tired as he felt. He could have used a couple more cups of coffee or a few additional hours of sleep, both of which could help him handle the next task on an endless agenda. It didn’t matter that the Cardinals had arrived home from Boston at 4 a.m. Thursday morning following a Wednesday night loss to Boston College; another opponent was closing quickly in an unforgiving Atlantic Coast Conference.
Gotta turn the page fast. Gotta bounce back faster. Pegues can grab some sleep in the spring.
In charge of crafting the scouting report for the next game, Pegues settled in to dissect video of the opponent. Even before he booted up his laptop, he knew what to expect. The opponent would play with space and pace. They’d take care of the ball. They’d seldom turn it over and rarely foul. They’d run a read and react offense that flowed and was difficult to derail. They’d be high basketball IQ dudes. They’d defend well enough to win and give themselves a chance at the end.
Pegues knew so much of what was coming before he had dived into the details that it was like he had played for the opposing coach.
Scouting a Mike Brey team was second nature for Pegues. He played for the Notre Dame coach during Brey’s previous head coaching stop at the University of Delaware. On Sunday, the two will work for the first time as college coaches opposite one another when two struggling teams — Louisville (18-11; 9-7 ACC) and Notre Dame (13-15; 3-12) meet at KFC Yum! Center (1:30 p.m., CBS).
Notre Dame needs a win. Louisville needs a win. That’s paramount to both sides, but it’s going to be slightly bizarre for the 41-year-old Pegues to look down one sideline and see his former college head coach.
“It will be a circle-is- complete type of experience,” said Pegues, like Brey, a graduate of DeMatha (Md.) Catholic High School who played for legendary coach Morgan Wootten. “The ball goes up, we’re enemies for the first time. That will be a fun experience, but at the same time, kind of awkward.
“Going to battle together many moons ago, we had a great camaraderie, a great relationship when I played for him.”
Brey was in his second season at Delaware when he recruited Pegues from suburban Washington. It took a year for the two to find their groove, but once they did, they got it rolling. In Brey’s third season — the second for Pegues in 1997-98 — the Blue Hens finished 20-10 overall, 12-6 in the America East. They went to the NCAA tournament for the third time in school history. The next year — Brey’s fourth, Pegues’ third — they finished 25-6, 15-3 and made a return trip to the NCAA tournament. The following year in 1999-2000, Brey’s fifth year and Pegues’ fourth, Delaware went 24-8, 14-4.
Pegues closed his college career as the school’s all-time leading scorer (2,030 points). He was the first UD player to earn league player of the year three times. Brey went 99-52, 60-30 in the America East with two conference tournament titles.
Brey needed Pegues to succeed; Pegues needed Brey to reach his potential. They’d forever be linked. Fittingly, both were inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2007.
Not long after Pegues exhausted his eligibility, Brey lit out for Indiana. The Notre Dame job, he’s often said, was one he doesn’t get without the 6-foot-5, 240-pounder doing what he did for him back in Newark for four years. Brey said it again Friday.
“He’s got that right,” laughed Pegues. “Coach Brey got really lucky with the guys he brought into that program. We all bought into wanting to win. We did big things.”
Like the consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament. Like winning the conference championships (1998, ’99). Late last week, Brey hoped to dig out his 1998 conference tournament championship ring and wear it this weekend. It was another road trip to yet another ACC city, but it also was one with a twist. Instead of hunkering down in the team’s downtown hotel the night before the game, Brey planned to meet Pegues and two more of his former Delaware players — Keith Davis and Tyrone Perry — for dinner Saturday night. There would be a lot of stories and a lot more laughs for a group that rode a wave over 20 seasons ago to someplace special.
It was a heck of a ride for the mid-major program.
“There was a great toughness to those guys,” Brey said of his scheduled dinner companions.
Nobody was tougher than Pegues. Years later when Brey was at Notre Dame, the Irish ran much of the same inside-outside, feed-the-post and play-off-the-big-man action that they ran at Delaware. Instead of leaning a lot on Pegues, it was All-American Luke Harangody. Both were low-block beasts.
“They could just get shots off in weird body positions,” Brey said. “They just found the basket.”
Feeding off Pegues in the post with a veteran team that was built to win right then and there and then did, Delaware enjoyed unparalleled program success. The Blue Hens were so good during a three-year run (69-24; 41-13) that Pegues said the toughest decision Brey had back then was figuring out what color mock turtleneck to wear on game days.
He was joking. Kind of. Sort of. Maybe.
“If I owned one,” Pegues said, “I’d wear it Sunday.”
The task now for Pegues is to craft a game plan for the Cardinals to beat his old boss. That walk down Memory Lane for a couple hours was nice, but the Cardinals could use a win. So could the Irish. For two hours in front of a national television audience, Brey and Pegues will put their past aside. Just the way it has to be.
When the final horn sounds and regardless of the score, the former player will find his former head coach, give him a hug and thank him for everything he’s meant to him. As a player. As a man. As a friend.
Sour season aside, Pegues believes Irish fans should feel similar.
“Notre Dame’s lucky to have him,” he said. “He hasn’t led them to a Final Four or a national championship, but not a lot of guys in this business have done that.
“It’s not an easy thing.”
With that, Pegues’ stroll down Sentimental Street was over. He had to jump back into more video. Get into charting tendencies and diagramming sets and filing bullet points on D.J. Harvey and Prentiss Hubb, two other guys from the DMV. It was back to work.
“We,” Pegues said, “gotta find a way to figure the Irish out.”
WHO: Notre Dame (13-15; 3-12 ACC) vs. Louisville (18-11; 9-7).
WHERE: KFC Yum! Center (22,000), Louisville, Ky.
WHEN: Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
RADIO: WSBT (960 AM/96.1 FM).
ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at twitter.com@tnoieNDI
NOTING: Power forward Steven Enoch scored a career-high 22 points and swingman Jordan Nwora added 13 points and 12 rebounds in Wednesday’s 66-59 loss at Boston College. … The Cardinals have lost three in a row, five of six and six of eight after earlier winning six straight in ACC play. … Over the last four games, Louisville is shooting a combined 34.1 percent from the field, 26.9 percent from 3. … Louisville returned four starters off last year’s team that finished 22-14, 9-9 and tied for eighth in the league. The Cardinals now start a junior transfer, two sophomores and two graduate transfers. The roster features six transfers. … Louisville was picked in preseason to finish 11th. …Enoch and Irish power forward Juwan Durham spent their freshman years together at Connecticut … Coach Chris Mack is in his first season at Louisville after nine at Xavier. … The Cardinals spent five weeks in the national rankings – as high as No. 15 – before falling out last week. … Louisville leads the all-time series, 23-14, including 13-3 at home. The Irish lead the series as ACC colleagues, 4-3. Notre Dame last won in Louisville on March 4, 2015. … Notre Dame has been idle since Monday’s 68-61 loss at No. 18 Florida State. … The Irish have lost four in a row, five of six and 10 of 12. They are 1-6 on the road with three-straight losses in league play. … Louisville enters the final week of the regular season in seventh place in the league; Notre Dame is in 14th.
QUOTING: “He’s a guy that has a lot of different layers. Even back at Delaware, he knew that he could pretty much say whatever he wanted to me and knew how to get a response. He was really good at pushing guys’ buttons and keeping guys confident.”
• Louisville assistant coach Mike Pegues on his college head coach, Mike Brey.